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Greatest Hits: Essie Ballet Slippers is the Only Neutral Nail Polish You Need

By Wendy Rodewald-Sulz / April 23, 2014

While we can’t get enough of shiny new beauty launches, sometimes it’s the products that have stood the test of time that really deserve the spotlight. In our Greatest Hits series, we take a closer look at the staples beauty insiders swear by.

The Icon

What it is: A semi-sheer, neutral pink polish that flatters all skin tones.
How we use it: As a go-to, goes-with-everything nude for fingers and toes. When we want a shade that looks as good with all-black-everything as it does with neon prints. For a vacation pedicure that won’t show chips. As a palate cleanser when we’re bored of nail art and glitter.

The Story

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when salons didn’t have walls of polish colors, but only a handful of shades. Sensing an opportunity, company founder Essie Weingarten launched her polish business in 1981 in Las Vegas with an original lineup of 12 shades (three of which are still top sellers today: Baby’s Breath, Blanc and Bordeaux). The following year, she created a pale pink inspired by her childhood ballet slippers.
“As a young girl, I was simply devoted to ballet,” Weingarten has said, “and as an adult, I harbored a deep nostalgia for the ideal femininity of pink ballet slippers. I really thought I’d become a prima ballerina one day—who knew I'd end up in the nail polish business? The staggering popularity of this shade is a testament to the fact that dreams do come true.”
By 2012, 40 bottles of Ballet Slippers were being sold in the U.S. every hour. “The reason it’s been so successful is that it looks great with all skin tones,” Weingarten has said. “It’s very sheer, yet there is some pink in it.” Today, Essie Cosmetics is owned by L’Oréal. The brand has over 250 shades in the permanent collection, plus releases four seasonal color collections and two specialty collections every year. Ballet Slippers remains a perennial favorite.

Why It’s Iconic

The perfect blend of sheer and creamy, pink and white, Ballet Slippers is as versatile as it gets. While other pink-nudes can skew too chalky or muddy or saccharine, this one is just right — and it’s as flattering on supershort nails as it is on long talons. The formula goes on evenly, stays shiny and resists chips. And like all great cosmetics shades, it's buildable: one coat gives a sheer wash of color, while two or three coats create a more opaque look.
Claim to fame: Madonna, Katie Holmes, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez and Barbra Streisand (Essie’s first celebrity client) have all publicly affirmed their love for the shade.
Bet you didn’t know: Queen Elizabeth II of England reportedly will only wear Ballet Slippers on her hands. In 1989, the queen’s hairdresser sent Essie Weingarten a letter requesting the shade to be directly delivered to Buckingham Palace.
Photo by Taylor Cox